Page images

brother, coming on the theatre of life after the sad reverse of his family, had no factitious aid to help him onward; but he was determined to procure an education; and teaching in the intervals between his regular studies, he is now one of the most popular pulpit orators in the United States, and has gathered his mother and her daughters to a neat little cottage, where they feel it their duty to teach, by the melancholy illustration of their own history, the great error of the present day - secking to live like other people.

[blocks in formation]

Erect, frowning forms of the chieftains yet flitted,

Like ranks of the doomed, who are driven away;
They shrieked as they passed, but they scorned to be pitied,

And plunged from my sight in the setting of day!

C. W. D.

[blocks in formation]

The reader will probably recollect, that I closed the first chapter of my autobiography on my arrival in this city, and soon after I had been taken in possession by a lame mendicant, and by him converted into a crutch. "I was, of course, simple and rustic in my aspect, and beheld many strange things in this great metropolis. Yet it must be confessed, I had seen something of the world. I had found industry and virtue linked to prosperity and, on the other hand, the misery that is invariably attendant upon vice. But now I was in the great emporium, and the feeble support of a beggar. There were splendor and magnificence on every side, but with me, all was misery and gloom. I belonged to one of a class for whom death had no terrors. Indeed, he looked forward to it as his only hope his final rest. To the rich, death is an utmost, an only fear; but, in the beautiful language of Scripture, the clods of the valley shall be sweet unto the bitter in soul;' he shall rejoice exceedingly and be glad when he can find the grave.' A blessed light beameth from the tomb, for the man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in, so that he longeth for death, and diggeth for it more than for hid treasures. Of what a strange compound is this world composed ! Perhaps the reader will pardon me, while I give a brief history of the miserable family with whom I was domiciliated. I can aver that it is a plain, unadorned truth.

Thirty years ago, when it was quite uncommon to behold coaches in our streets, Broadway was almost daily enlivened by a splendid vehicle, which rolled in solemn pomp along the pavé, provided with out-riders, and all that was necessary for fashion or beauty. There was no mystery attached to the occupants and owner of this splen. did equipage. They belonged to the wealthy Mr. B-, the head of fashionable life; the polite gentleman, the accomplished scholar, the dispenser of banquets and festal entertainments. He was universally known, and as universally beloved ; and even while I write, I cannot help thinking that there may be some whose eyes will follow these lines, who will immediately recognise the character alluded to. Many, undoubtedly, yet remember bis accomplished daughters. Amiable and lovely, they attracted a large circle of admirers, and their smiles and frowns were long the food of joy and misery. There was one defect in them, and but one -and, sad to tell, it is one which is almost universal among the wealthy, even at the present day. They were utterly ignorant of the practical matters of the world. They had been nursed with the beautiful substances of life; their views of human nature had been on the gorgeous and poetical side ; they had never gone down from their high places into the valley and shadow of the world, where poverty and want rear their gloomy throne, but, exalted as they were on the summit of prosperity, they felt alone the sunshine of existence warm

ing around them. They were the victims of the false method adopted by the wealthy in rearing their offspring. How many fond fathers wonder at the fashionable airs of their children - at their indolence - their disregard of care. With a mother all industry, they are the queens of sluggards. Good advice is given, but it falls unheeded. The midnight festival, the pomp of assemblies, and all the circumstance of comfort and extravagance, are the only shrines at which they worship. Fond fathers ! - weak mothers ! you who train and guide your offspring in one path of life, yet expect them to travel all equally safe! As well might the English-trained parrot speak French - as well might the wild Arab steed, whose mouth never clasped the bit, whirl the chariot in safety — the rose bear thistles, or the pink violets.

But to return. Misfortunes befel the family, but not until the marriage of the daughters. Their lords' were poor; and the necessity of maintaining their families with their accustomed dignity, continued to impoverish them still more. At last, the charm and romance of existence began to wear off, and poverty to press with severer band upon them. One grievance closed upon another, until at last gambling and intemperance, those final engines of destruction, stepped in to finish the drama, and to drop the curtain upon the last scene of their prosperity.

What finally became of the majority of the brothers and sisters of this family, I am unable to say. But one was the wife of the mendicant to whom I was given in pity by the teamster. She was indeed sunk in the lowest depths of misery. With several young children about her, occupying a damp ground-room in a decayed section of the city, amid poverty, raggedness, sickness, and death, well might she weep that she ever had been born. Her husband was not only intemperate, but partially insane. I do not know that I ever saw such a surprising effect from liquor. Death generally releases the inebriate from life, ere he has reached such a state as that to which he had arrived. He took much pride in decorating himself with long slips of paper, and binding fancy strips of cloth about him, and thus promenading the streets, to the great amusement of the city. This, with his hobbling movement, rendered him extremely ludicrous. At times, he would procure a long pole, and bind upon it the daily journals, attracting the cheers and shouts of the urchins as he passed. This being was once the merchant, the gentleman, and the scholar.'

Previous to becoming crippled, and partially deranged, he had gathered a penny here and there, by running of small errands for gentlemen, which served to supply him with liquor. In those days, glimpses of sobriety would sometimes cross his brain, when the agony he seemed to endure was heart-rending. Had they lasted long, it would undoubtedly have destroyed his life.

In his latter days, he tenanted the open city nightly; and staggering toward home one January evening, he fell in the street, where, sleeping until morning, he froze his limbs, which came near depriving him of life, and was the cause of his crippled state, when I fell into his possession.

Yet, in his weak and helpless condition, the love of liquor never for a moment deserted him. I, of course, was his companion and friend, on every occasion. Tottering his way homeward, he often plunged headlong down a flight of steps against the basement-room of a building, and, stunned by the fall, would sink into a quiet slumber, and rise in an hour as fresh as ever. No accident seemed to injure him seriously. A bruise or two- a gush of blood upon his breast — a rent in his garments — and farther, all was well. Once, indeed, he rolled down into a deep cellar, covered at the bottom with loose stones, and I, in the conflict, flew many rods into another corner of the spot. A sharp stone pierced his side, laying bare his ribs; but otherwise, he seemed perfectly uninjured. A sober man would probably have never spoken again the cause of which I (the broomstick, recollect,) attribute to the loose and languid state of the drunkard's muscles and limbs.

I think I have dwelt full long upon the character of this poor, fallen, unfortunate being. His family but what can I say! The tale has been told scores of times. Oh! how true is it that 'one half of the world know not how the other half live! It was a family under the influence of refined misery. They had come down from a high place to their low and degrading level. Daily, they beheld some one pass with whom they had associated, but who now hurried by their door in silence and contempt. Those who are reared in poverty, bear the burden well; but penury is a hard companion for the uninitiated.

The children moved around the streets, soliciting charity, and the mother labored, as opportunity offered, in the most common employments. Yet, degraded as they were, the sensitiveness, the pride and spirit, which distinguished her early days, were not extinguished. Charity found no welcome within her doors, for it struck her to the heart. She could starve, but not beg openly ; and deep necessity, only, imposed that task upon her children.

Let me give a short dialogue which passed one winter evening in my presence. It may exhibit more forcibly the fact to which I have just alluded. It was a boisterous night. The wind was blowing a gale the snow flying in all directions -shutters creaking and clattering — and, alas! the poor miserable family suffering all but death by cold and starvation. Their last crust had been exhausted, and their fuel consumed. The mother was gradually dying - the father absent — and the children shivering and weeping in a collected group. In this condition, a stranger unexpectedly burst in upon them, and, after quietly surveying the premises, seated himself in silence. * An unpleasant evening for the poor, Madam,' said he, after a

Why, rather,' she replied; but we all have our trials, and the poor should not especially murmur at theirs.'

'I perceive, also,' he resumed, that your accommodations are not extravagant - perhaps' — and he paused a little, — 'perhaps, rather uncomfortable. Your fire is quite low, considering the


short pause.

[ocr errors]




of your children. Are you really sufficiently provided for ?'

• Why, as to that,' she answered, ' we do, to be sure, experience our inconveniences; our room, however, is quite comfortable, in comparison with many I have witnessed. These are, indeed, hard times.'

• A husband, madam ?'
*I had — in name, he is so yet.'

*Ah! I see; misfortunes --- intemperance, eh ? he inquired, ,
casting his eyes upward.
It is too true, my dear Sir yet,' she continued,

we have witnessed our happy days.'

• Do the benevolent ever inquire into your circumstances ? he asked.

* Well, Sir, they have inquired. Yet, blessed be God, we manage to keep along tolerably well. You must not judge, Sir, too much from our appearance. I can assure you we are much happier than our lot indicates.'

• But charity, you know, madam, is not to be confined alone to those in the lowest depths of poverty. Those who are struggling severely with their fortunes, though they triumph, are not the less worthy.' A tear started in her eye, and she turned full upon


stranger, and with her whole soul burst forth :

Poverty, Sir, is an awful thing.'
• Especially to those,' he replied, ' who once knew better days.'

Better days!' she repeated — better days, you said, Sir; and she glanced at him with an eye that shone like fire

• All classes, you know, are liable to misfortune !'

*Oh! now, Sir,' said she, do n't trifle with me! I know it. I was in high circumstances. I have had a mighty fall, indeed; so low, that it will be for ever impossible to rise again : but still we manage to keep along quite comfortably. We must not now expect the comforts of life in a high degree.'

Will you accept a present from a friend !' he said, reaching forth his hand; it may be welcome at this moment.'

• As a present, Sir, but not as charity — I cannot ask alms. To beg! merciful God!'

* Indeed, madam, it is your due ; a debt owed to your husband, contracted when he was in business ; please accept it.'

In this way, the poor lady was prevailed upon to receive a sum which was in reality charity, but which was given in so delicate a manner, that it afforded her a double degree of relief. Many people would term such a feeling fastidious. They would question the propriety of indulging the poverty-stricken in their mock sensibility. The true philanthropist, however, knows the human heart better, and deals with it accordingly.

Well — this family were partly supported by benevolence, and partly by the wife's industry for a long time. I, as usual, was the same old crutch, supporting a mass of liquor and corruption. But 'misfortunes seldom come singly. Neither did they in this case.

To close the scene of their suffering, a fire broke out in one of the buildVOL. IX.


[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »